EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Most college football rivalries are steeped in intrastate hatred, conference connections or both.
The Notre Dame-Michigan State showdown, which on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium will occur for the 76th time, has a unique hook.
Before the classic, 10-10, tie between the nations top-ranked teams in 1966, with Fighting Irish coach Ara Parseghian electing to run out the clock, there was a party invitation of sorts from the Irish to the Spartans.
And that extending of a hand created a rivalry that, while definitely heated on the field, remains remarkably cordial and respectful everywhere else.
People who know the history of it understand how important Notre Dame was to Michigan State, said George Perles, MSUs coach for 1983-94. Before we were in the Big Ten, Notre Dame was the first to schedule us regularly.
"We give a lot of credit to Notre Dame for helping us start out. The presidents of both schools along the way have been so instrumental in this.
The Spartans joined the Big Ten in 1953, five years after the Irish began scheduling them.
The respect Notre Dame has for Michigan State and the respect Michigan State has for Notre Dame remains very, very prevalent, Parseghian said. The competition has been intense throughout the years, and now Dantonio and Kelly are carrying on the tradition.
Mark Dantonio has built the No. 10 Spartans (2-0) into Big Ten favorites. Irish coach Brian Kelly has won eight games in each of his first two seasons and brings a 2-0 team ranked No. 19 in the AP poll into this meeting.
Spartans junior middle linebacker Max Bullough and his freshman linebacker brother, Riley, epitomize a rare, two-way street in regard to choosing allegiances in this rivalry.
Their father, Shane, was a star linebacker at MSU. Their mother, Lee Ann, graduated from Notre Dame, where her father, Jim Morse, was the captain in 1956.
Their uncle, Chuck Bullough, and grandfather, Hank Bullough, also were prominent Spartans players. Another uncle, Jim Morse, was a backup cornerback on the 1977 Irish national champions.
Lee Ann's younger brother, Bobby Morse, a Spartans tailback from 1983-86, attended his sisters graduation at Notre Dame with Shane. He and Lee Ann fell in love, and the rest is history.
All of this is the hardest on my dad, Lee Ann said. Hell sit in a booth with the Notre Dame athletic director, and my mom will sit in the stands with us. If Notre Dame wins, he doesnt rub it in. But if Michigan State wins, he heads home right away.
But the one thing the two families have in common in football is that we both hate the Michigan Wolverines!
She chuckled over the phone from their home in Traverse City, Mich.
Lee Ann said she didnt fully convert to Spartanism until Max, now a tri-captain, enrolled in East Lansing.
She grew up a huge Notre Dame fan for a good reason, Shane said. But shes the most loyal Mom in the world, and so shes the biggest MSU fan in the world now. Her kids trump all.
Shane had no trouble getting up for the Irish because his coach at Cincinnati Moeller High School, Gerry Faust, didnt offer him a Notre Dame scholarship.
He talked to me for 45 minutes and told me they were looking elsewhere, said Shane, who played at MSU from 1983-86. "I probably wouldnt have gone there anyway. But it added to my desire to beat them each year.
He went 2-2 against the Irish.
The games winner, since 1949, receives the Megaphone Trophy, originated by the Detroit alumni clubs of both schools. Notre Dame leads the series, 46-28-1, dating back to their first game in 1897, when MSU was known as State Agricultural College.
The trophy receives little fanfare, but Perles, who lettered for Duffy Daugherty in 1958, recalled an intriguing item two coaches brought to the series.
Duffy and Terry Brennan used to exchange a shillelagh, Perles said. Whoever won the game, held onto it for a year. Thats two Irishmen, for sure.
"I wish I knew where that shillelagh was today.
Daugherty beat Brennan the last three times their teams met, beginning an eight-game MSU winning streak broken by the new Irish coach in 1964, Parseghian.
It was a real big deal in 1964 for Notre Dame to beat Michigan State, said the radio voice of the football Spartans, George Blaha, a 1965 graduate of Notre Dame who has seen 45 games between the two schools. If you could beat MSU, you had something. And Ara got things going again for Notre Dame.
Which brings us to Nov. 19, 1966, when the No. 1 Irish and No. 2 Spartans fought and clawed to that tie.
Parseghian said he opted to play it conservatively and run out the clock, after getting the ball back on his own 30 with 1:10 remaining, because three starters -- quarterback Terry Hanratty (injured by Bubba Smith in the first quarter), halfback Nick Eddy and center George Goeddeke -- were out. And Parseghian wasnt sure of the condition of his diabetic backup quarterback, Coley OBrien, who he said missed on seven consecutive pass attempts.
I kid that 66 team at our reunions every five years, Parseghian said. I tell them, I made you guys immortals by playing it that way. Your games still talked about!
Notre Dame blew out USC, 51-0, the next week, but the Irish didn't accept bowl bids until 1969. MSU was done for the seaon, as well, because the Big Ten didnt allow schools back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances or bids in other bowls at that time.
In the final AP and UPI polls, the Irish remained No. 1 with the Spartans No. 2.
That game, like the rivalry, was a fist fight, said Notre Dame halfback Bob Harpo Gladieux, who caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from OBrien for the first Irish points. It was a championship heavyweight fight, is what it was.
When you woke up Sunday morning, you knew you played the Spartans. And they knew they played the Irish, too. We all felt it.
"Both teams go at it hard. Thats where the respect came, and why it remains.